Even in a political year full of extremely difficult decisions, the next year looming next week looks especially difficult – and it risks dividing the government: whether London It should move to the highest level of coronavirus restrictions.
Boris Johnson told the audience, “Your level is not your destiny.” England emerged from a four-week lockdown in November, holding on to hope that restrictions can be eased when reviewed on December 16.
Instead, he may have no choice but to tighten rules on the 9 million people in the capital – a decision he vehemently resisted last month, backed by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, and Business Minister, Alok Sharma, in fear. Up to 500,000 jobs could be lost.
With some neighborhoods registering more than twice the average rate of cases in England, public health experts believe the virus has spread again in the city hit hard in the first wave of the pandemic – and the decision is clear. For areas in northern England that have suffered months of Tier 3 restrictions, it would seem extremely unfair if the capital avoided the same measures.
Some scientists in the government’s Sage Scientific Advisory Group privately argue that London should in fact have moved immediately to Level 3 in early December, when the post-lockdown regime was in England. It was an introduction.
Line up against this are those who warn of the dire consequences of effectively shutting down so many days of the London hospitality industry before the traditionally busiest period, as people learn to lose their job days from Christmas.
The decision is set to be made at a meeting of the government’s Covid-O committee on Wednesday, chaired by Johnson, unless he has a deep knee. Brexit negotiations.
For London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and its delegated administration, this gives a matter of days to show ministers that the course of contagion has changed, and that the decision can at least be postponed until January.
It appears that no decision has been reached yet. Health Secretary Matt Hancock and Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove are seen pushing to move to Level 3, while the Treasury is concerned about the economic impact.
One of the sources in the London administration said: “There are definitely some people who think we should be at Level 3, and other people who are really worried, not just about the financial repercussions, but whether hospitality is causing the transmission.”
Crucially, for a city economy that is particularly dependent on pubs, bars, restaurants and other hospitality venues, while these can open at Level 2 if people dine with alcohol, moving to the next level means they have to go for takeaway meals only.
Kate Nichols, chief executive of UKH Hospitality, said hospitality continued to bear a disproportionate burden to allow other parts of the economy to reopen during this crisis. The prospect of London moving to Level 3 would deal a fatal blow that many hospitality companies will not recover from. “
She added: “The increase in infections being reported in London neighborhoods is also not a result of the recent reopening of the hospitality sector, as we know due to the incubation period. Consequently, any tighter restrictions imposed on the capital’s hospitality sector will have a dubious effect on reducing transportation while plunging the sector into a deeper crisis. “
One of Hancock’s ally downplayed the idea of the dove-hawk dichotomy, insisting that he, as a former adviser to George Osborne, understood the economic risks of the strict restrictions. But they added: “Matt definitely comes to this, as you would expect him to, as health minister: his job is to look at the public health argument, and bring it up.”
What is clear is that while infection rates vary widely between London boroughs, the clear threshold for moving to Level 3 has already been crossed in some areas.
A string of neighborhoods has seven-day rolling infection rates close to twice the England average or more than 153 cases per 100,000 people, including Hafring – at 379 – plus Barking, Dagenham, Redbridge and Waltham Forest.
Professor Stephen Riley of Imperial College London, who is part of the Spi-M sub-group of Sage, said of the “alarming” infection data: “I think it indicates that transmission has increased in London. It has gone from coming down fairly consistently to having a presence. Fairly steady signal to go up. “
Friday, Public Health England Made a public appeal For Londoners to “take urgent action to protect their loved ones during the holidays,” local head of public health, Kevin Fenton, used a video on Twitter to urge people to adhere to the rules.
Khan’s team is hoping infection rates will start, and they are prepared to say that factors other than hospitality are the main drivers.
Most of the larger neighborhoods are located outside of London, often areas with extreme poverty. After Khan and other London leaders met with the Minister for Communities, Robert Generic, on Thursday, A. The mayor’s office called More help so people can better self-isolate.
The city has already received additional support for Covid test in high schools. On Friday, the government announced 75,000 additional tests for seven badly damaged London neighborhoods, and as of this weekend it will start sending 44,000 home test kits to school staff before they return to work in January.
Some Conservative MPs in London said in private that they would try to fight the move to the third level, but with the decision that does not require a vote in Parliament, it is not clear what they can do.
Wes Streeting, Labor MP for Ilford North, said he agreed that the decision should be guided by evidence. He said, “The challenge we face in London is two-fold: How can you get the message across about being safe, responsible and potentially tighter restrictions, while effectively telling people that there is a respite over Christmas.”
“Also, while we are very comfortable that the vaccine is being rolled out, we are conveying the message that this is not a time for complacency, and that the virus is still taking hold and unfortunately killing people.”
Downing Street sources stressed the fact that the decision will not only depend on case rates, which are rising rapidly in the capital, but on other factors including the capacity of the local NHS.